Do you feel comfortable dealing with absence issues in your team?

Many people don’t feel comfortable – maybe a well-respected member of staff has just been diagnosed with a serious health condition or one of your team takes lots of Mondays and Fridays off? Many people feel uncomfortable talking about illness in general. We don’t know what to say – should we talk to them about it or ignore it? Opening a discussion can sound like you don’t believe them.

Managing absence at work effectively is key to supporting your staff and managing your business effectively. Prolonged absence puts a strain on the rest of the team and can lead to other people becoming demotivated as they take on extra workload. You also need as much information as possible so that you can support your employee.

Top tips for managing absence effectively are:

  • Develop clear policies on how you will manage absence so that everyone understands your approach
  • Keep accurate records of sickness absence
  • Always hold return to work interviews
  • Keep communication lines open -the more information you have the easier it will be to work with that person to find a solution
  • Show everyone you are comfortable talking about absence and sickness issues and there is no embarrassment about being ill
  • Always respect confidentiality and agree what can be communicated to others in the team
  • Implement reasonable adjustments for people who have a disability

In terms of short term or what might be called ‘intermittent’ absence, it is a good idea to have trigger points in your policies. These might be:

  • 3 occurrences of absence in a 6-month period
  • 5 days’ absence or more in a 6-month period

When anyone reaches these triggers, you should have a discussion with them which covers questions such as:

  • Why they have been off sick?
  • Is there a link between the occurrences?
  • Are there any underlying reasons for the various occurrences?
  • Is the person receiving medical advice or treatment?
  • Will the situation change or improve going forward?
  • What can you do to support them?

You should then monitor and review the situation over the next few months before taking the next steps.

For long term absence (often this is absence of more than 4 weeks), make sure you keep in touch with the employee but do not harass them. If possible, agree when and how you will make contact. With long term absence you will almost always need to obtain a medical report from either the person’s GP or medical specialist. You will want to find out information about how the condition is likely to progress and when the person may be in a position to return to work.

Consider a phased return to work for long term absence. It can help someone adjust to a new routine and mean they can balance periods of work with time for rest and recovery.

Return to work interviews are vital after every period of absence whether or not the person is approaching trigger points. Returning to work and feeling as if no-one has noticed you haven’t been there – is incredibly demotivating. This is even more important if your team are now remote. Make sure that speaking to that person who has just returned from absence, is your first priority when they return.

We work with organisations on all aspects of managing absence and can provide bespoke policies, training and guidance and support throughout the whole process.

Email us on or call on 07811 178707